Apple's iPhone and iPad assembly lines in China's Shenzhen region on Monday were opened to outside inspections in a bid by Apple to counter labor abuse allegations.
The Washington, D.C.-based Fair Labor Association began its first inspections at Foxconn City. Chinese factories run by Taiwan-based Foxconn have come under scrutiny for labor conditions, accidental deaths and reports of suicides.
Apple last month disclosed its major suppliers and the planned FLA review. "The inspections now underway are unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope, and we appreciate the FLA agreeing to take the unusual step of identifying the factories in their reports," Apple CEO Tim Cook said Monday in a statement. Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
Apple's move for the FLA inspection of its contract factories could increase pressure for improvements. Already more than 200,000 people have signed a petition at Change.org urging Apple to improve working conditions.
The non-profit FLA plans to interview thousands of employees about working and living conditions and also inspect worker dormitories. First results from the inspections will be posted in March. FLA will inspect Quanta and Pegatron facilities this spring, extending the review to more than 90% of Apple's assembly lines.
"We're dealing with a problem here that is endemic to our electronics industry," says Casey Harrell, an analyst at Greenpeace, a critic of Apple. "There appears to be a genuine interest from the company in wanting to do improvements."
Apple joins Adidas, Nike, Patagonia and others that have supported such monitoring to improve labor conditions in contract plants.
Reviews disclosed in January of factories making Apple goods revealed issues including underage and involuntary workers and over-60-hour workweeks.
"My hope is that Apple will begin to have a vested interest in having a humane workplace," says Mike Daisey, who traveled to Apple's China plants, then wrote The Agony and the Ecstasy of SteveJobs, a theatrical production about Apple's manufacturers. "It's inherently encouraging to see them understand that their brand is at stake."